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The Historical Nights' Entertainment

Part 4 out of 7

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under the very eyes of the King who had unleashed this horror.
Doors were crashed open, flames rose to heaven, men and women were
shot down under the palace wall, bodies were flung from windows,
and on every side - in the words of D'Aubigne - the blood now
flowed, seeking the river.

The King watched a while, screams and curses pouring from his lips
to be lost in the horrible uproar. He turned, perhaps to upbraid
his mother and his brother, but found that they were no longer at
his side. Behind him in the room a page was crouching, watching
him with a white, horrified face.

Suddenly the King laughed - it was the fierce, hysterical laugh of
a madman. His eyes fell on the arquebuses flanking the picture of
the Mother of Mercy. He took one of them down, then caught the boy
by the collar of his doublet and dragged him forward to the window.

"Hither, and load for me!" he bade him, between peals of his
terrible laughter. Then he levelled the weapon across the sill of
the window. "Parpaillots! Parpaillots!" he screamed. "Kill!
Kill!" and he discharged the arquebus into a fleeing group of
Huguenots.

Five days later, the King - who by now had thrown the blame of the
whole affair, with its slaughter of some two thousand Huguenots,
upon the Guises and their hatred of Coligny - rode out to Montfaucon
to behold the decapitated body of the Admiral, which hung from the
gallows in chains. A courtier of a poor but obtrusive wit leaned
towards him.

"The Admiral becomes noisome, I think," he said.

The King's green eyes considered him, his lips curling grimly.

"The body of a dead enemy always smells sweet," he said.

VI. THE NIGHT OF WITCHCRAFT

LOUIS XIV AND MADAME DE MONTESPAN

If you scrape the rubbish-heap of servile, coeval flattery that
usually smothers the personality of a monarch, you will discover a
few kings who have been truly great; many who have achieved
greatness because they were wisely content to serve as masks for
the great intellects of their time; and, for the rest, some bad
kings, some foolish kings, and some ridiculous kings. But in all
that royal gallery of history you will hardly find a more truly
absurd figure than that of the resplendent Roi Soleil, the Grand
Monarque, the Fourteenth Louis of France.

I am not aware that he has ever been laughed at; certainly never
to the extent which he deserves. The flatterers of his day,
inevitable products of his reign, did their work so thoroughly that
even in secret they do not appear to have dared to utter - possibly
they did not even dare to think - the truth about him. Their work
survives, and when you have assessed the monstrous flattery at its
true worth, swept it aside and come down to the real facts of his
life, you make the discovery that the proudest title their
sycophancy could bestow and his own fatuity accept - Le Roi Soleil,
the Sun-King - makes him what indeed he is: a king of opera bouffe.
There is about him at times something almost reminiscent of the
Court buffoons of a century before, who puffed themselves out with
mock pride, and aped a sort of sovereignty to excite laughter; with
this difference, however, that in his own case it was not intended
to be amusing.

A heartless voluptuary of mediocre intelligence, he contrived to
wrap himself in what Saint-Simon has called a "terrible majesty."
Hewas obsessed by the idea of the dignity, almost the divinity - of
kingship. I cannot believe that he conceived himself human. He
appears to have held that being king was very like being God, and
he duped the world by ceremonials of etiquette that were very
nearly sacramental. We find him burdening the most simple and
personal acts of everyday life with a succession of rites of an
amazing complexity. Thus, when he rose in the morning, princes of
the blood and the first gentlemen of France were in attendance: one
to present to him his stockings, another to proffer on bended knee
the royal garters, a third to perform the ceremony of handing him
his wig, and so on until the toilette of his plump, not unhandsome
person was complete. You miss the incense, you feel that some
noble thurifer should have fumigated him at each stage. Perhaps
he never thought of it.

The evil fruits of his reign - evil, that is to say, from the point
of view of his order, which was swept away as so much anachronistic
rubbish - did not come until a hundred years later. In his own day
France was great, and this not because but in spite of him. After
all, he was not the absolute ruler he conceived himself. There were
such capable men as Colbert and Louvois at the King's side'; there
was the great genius of France which manifests itself when and as
it will, whatever the regime - and there was Madame de Montespan
to whose influence not a little of Louis's glory may be ascribed,
since the most splendid years of his reign were those between 1668
and 1678 when she was maitresse en titre and more than Queen of
France. The women played a great part at the Court of Louis XIV,
and those upon whom he turned his dark eyes were in the main as wax
under the solar rays of the Sun-King. But Madame de Montespan had
discovered the secret of reversing matters, so that in her hands it
was the King who became as wax for her modelling. It is with this
secret - a page of the secret history of France that we are here
concerned.

Francoises Athenais de Tonnay-Charente had come to Court in 1660 as
a maid of honour to the Queen. Of a wit and grace to match her
superb beauty, she was also of a perfervid piety, a daily
communicant, a model of virtue to all maids of honour. This until
the Devil tempted her. When that happened, she did not merely eat
an apple; she devoured an entire orchard. Pride and ambition
brought about her downfall. She shared the universal jealousy of
which Louise de la Valliere was a victim, and coveted the honours
and the splendour by which that unfortunate favourite was surrounded.

Not even her marriage with the Marquis de Montespan some three years
after her coming to Court sufficed to overcome the longings born of
her covetousness and ambition. And then, when the Sun-King looked
with favour upon her opulent charms, when at last she saw the object
of her ambition within reach, that husband of hers went very near
to wrecking everything by his unreasonable behaviour. This
preposterous marquis had the effrontery to dispute his wife with
Jupiter, was so purblind as not to appreciate the honour the Sun-King
proposed to do him.

In putting it thus, I but make myself the mouthpiece of the Court.

When Montespan began to make trouble by railing furiously against
the friendship of the King for his wife, his behaviour so amazed the
King's cousin, Mademoiselle de Montpensier, that she called him
"an extravagant and extraordinary man." To his face she told him
that he must be mad to behave in this fashion; and so incredibly
distorted were his views, that he did not at all agree with her.
He provoked scenes with the King, in which he quoted Scripture,
made opposite allusions to King David which were in the very worst
taste, and even ventured to suggest that the Sun-King might have
to reckon with the judgment of God. If he escaped a lettre de
cachet and a dungeon in the Bastille, it can only have been because
the King feared the further spread of a scandal injurious to the
sacrosanctity of his royal dignity.

The Marchioness fumed in private and sneered in public. When
Mademoiselle de Montpensier suggested that for his safety's sake
she should control her husband's antics, she expressed her
bitterness.

"He and my parrot," she said, "amuse the Court to my shame."

In the end, finding that neither by upbraiding the King nor by
beating his wife could he prevail, Monsieur de Montespan resigned
himself after his own fashion. He went into widower's mourning,
dressed his servants in black, and came ostentatiously to Court in
a mourning coach to take ceremonious leave of his friends. It was
an affair that profoundly irritated the Sun-King, and very nearly
made him ridiculous.

Thereafter Montespan abandoned his wife to the King. He withdrew
first to his country seat, and, later, from France, having
received more than a hint that Louis was intending to settle his
score with him. By that time Madame de Montespan was firmly
established as maitresse en titre, and in January of 1669 she gave
birth to the Duke of Maine, the first of the seven children she
was to bear the King. Parliament was to legitimize them all,
declaring them royal children of France, and the country was to
provide titles, dignities, and royal rent-rolls for them and their
heirs forever. Do you wonder that there was a revolution a century
later, and that the people, grown weary of the parasitic anachronism
of royalty, should have risen to throw off the intolerable burden
it imposed upon them?

The splendour of Madame de Montespan in those days was something
the like of which had never been seen at the Court of France. On
her estate of Clagny, near Versailles, stood now a magnificent
chateau. Louis had begun by building a country villa, which
satisfied her not at all.

"That," she told him, "might do very well for an opera-girl";
whereupon the infatuated monarch had no alternative but to command
its demolition, and call in the famous architect, Mansard, to erect
in its place an ultraroyal residence.

At Versailles itself, whilst the long-suffering Queen had to be
content with ten rooms on the second floor, Madame de Montespan was
installed in twice that number on the first; and whilst a simple
page sufficed to carry the Queen's train at Court, nothing less than
the wife of a marshal of France must perform the same office for the
favourite. She kept royal state as few queens have ever kept it.
She was assigned a troop of royal bodyguards for escort, and when
she travelled there was a never-ending train to follow her six-horse
coach, and officers of State came to receive her with royal honours
wherever she passed.

In her immeasurable pride she became a tyrant, even over the King
himself.

"Thunderous and triumphant," Madame de Sevigne describes her in
those days when the Sun-King was her utter and almost timid slave.

But constancy is not a Jovian virtue. Jupiter grew restless, and
then, shaking off all restraint, plunged into inconstancy of the
most scandalous and flagrant kind. It is doubtful if the history
of royal amours, with all its fecundity, can furnish a parallel.
Within a few months, Madame de Soubise, Mademoiselle de
Rochefort-Theobon, Madame de Louvigny, Madame de Ludres, and some
lesser ones passed in rapid succession through the furnace of the
Sun-King's affection - which is to say, through the royal bed -
and at last the Court was amazed to see the Widow Scarron, who had
been appointed governess to Madame de Montespan's royal children,
empanoplied in a dignity and ceremony that left no doubt on the
score of her true position at Court.

And so, after seven years of absolute sway in which homage had been
paid her almost in awe by noble and simple alike, Madame de
Montespan, neglected now by Louis, moved amid reflections of that
neglect, with arrogantly smiling lips and desperate rage in her
heart. She sneered openly at the royal lack of taste, allowed her
barbed wit to make offensive sport with the ladies who supplanted
her; yet, ravaged by jealousy, she feared for herself the fate
which through her had overtaken La Valliere.

That fear was with her now as she sat in the window embrasure, hell
in her heart and a reflection of it in her eyes, as, fallen almost
to the rank of a spectator in that comedy wherein she was accustomed
to the leading part, she watched the shifting, chattering,
glittering crowd. And as she watched, her line of vision was
crossed to her undoing by the slender, wellknit figure of de Vanens,
who, dressed from head to foot in black, detached sharply from that
dazzling throng. His face was pale and saturnine, his eyes dark,
very level, and singularly piercing. Thus his appearance served to
underline the peculiar fascination which he exerted, the rather
sinister appeal which he made to the imagination.

This young Provencal nobleman was known to dabble in magic, and
there were one or two dark passages in his past life of which more
than a whisper had gone abroad. Of being a student of alchemy, a
"philosopher" - that is to say, a seeker after the philosopher's
stone, which was to effect the transmutation of metals - he made
no secret. But if you taxed him with demoniacal practices he would
deny it, yet in a way that carried no conviction.

To this dangerous fellow Madame de Montespan now made appeal in her
desperate need.

Their eyes met as he was sauntering past, and with a lazy smile and
a languid wave of her fan she beckoned him to her side.

"They tell me, Vanens," said she, "that your philosophy succeeds
so well that you are transmuting copper into silver."

His piercing eyes surveyed her, narrowing; a smile flickered over
his thin lips.

"They tell you the truth," he said. "I have cast a bar which has
been purchased as good silver by the Mint."

Her interest quickened. "By the Mint!" she echoed, amazed. "But,
then, my friend - " She was breathless with excitement. "It is
a miracle."

"No less," he admitted. "But there is the greater miracle to come
- the transmutation of base metal into gold."

"And you will perform it?"

"Let me but conquer the secret of solidifying mercury, and the rest
is naught. I shall conquer it, and soon."

He spoke with easy confidence, a man stating something that he knew
beyond the possibility of doubt. The Marquise became thoughtful.
She sighed.

"You are the master of deep secrets, Vanens. Have you none that
will soften flinty hearts, make them responsive?"

He considered this woman whom Saint-Simon has called "beautiful as
the day," and his smile broadened.

"Look in your mirror for the alchemy needed there," he bade her.

Anger rippled across the perfect face. She lowered

"I have looked - in vain. Can you not help me, Vanens, you who
know so much?"

"A love-philtre?" said he, and hummed. "Are you in earnest?"

"Do you mock me with that question? Is not my need proclaimed for
all to see?"

Vanens became grave.

"It is not an alchemy in which myself I dabble," he said slowly.
"But I am acquainted with those who do."

She clutched his wrist in her eagerness.

"I will pay well," she said.

"You will need to. Such things are costly." He glanced round to
see that none was listening, then bending nearer: "There is a
sorceress named La Voisin in the Rue de la Tannerie, well known as
a fortuneteller to many ladies of the Court, who at a word from me
will do your need."

La Montespan turned white. The piety in which she had been reared
- the habits of which clung to her despite the irregularity of her
life-made her recoil before the thing that she desired. Sorcery
was of the Devil. She told him so. But Vanens laughed.

"So that it be effective . . ." said he with a shrug.

And then across the room floated a woman's trilling laugh. She
looked in the direction of the sound and beheld the gorgeous figure
of the King bending - yet haughty and condescending even in
adoration - over handsome Madame de Ludres. Pride and ambition
rose up in sudden fury to trample on religious feeling. Let Vanens
take her to this witch of his, for be the aid what it might, she
must have it.

And so, one dark night late in the year, Louis de Vanens handed a
masked and muffled lady from a coach at the corner of the Rue de
la Tannerie, and conducted her to the house of La Voisin.

The door was opened for them by a young woman of some twenty years
of age - Marguerite Monvoisin, the daughter of the witch - who led
them upstairs to a room that was handsomely furnished and hung with
fantastic tapestry of red designs upon a black ground - designs that
took monstrous shapes in the flickering light of a cluster of
candles. Black curtains parted, and from between them stepped a
short, plump woman, of a certain comeliness, with two round black
beads of eyes. She was fantastically robed in a cloak of crimson
velvet, lined with costly furs and closely studded with double-headed
eagles in fine gold, which must have been worth a prince's ransom;
and she wore red shoes on each of which there was the same eagle
design in gold.

"Ah, Vanens!" she said familiarly.

He bowed.

"I bring you," he announced, "a lady who has need of your skill."

And he waved a hand towards the tall cloaked figure at his side.

La Voisin looked at the masked face.

"Velvet faces tell me little, Madame la Marquise," she said calmly.
"Nor, believe me, will the King look at a countenance that you
conceal from me."

Therewas an exclamation of surprise and anger from Madame de
Montespan. She plucked off her mask.

"You knew me?"

"Can you wonder?" asked La Voisin, "since I have told you what you
carry concealed in your heart?"

Madame de Montespan was as credulous as only the very devout can be.

"Since that is so, since you know already what I seek, tell me can
you procure it me?" she asked in a fever of excitement. "I will
pay well."

La Voisin smiled darkly.

"Obdurate, indeed, is the case that will not yield to such medicine
as mine," she said. "Let me consider first what must be done. In
a few days I shall bring you word. But have you courage for a great
ordeal?"

"For any ordeal that will give me what I want."

"In a few days, then, you shall hear from me," said the witch, and
so dismissed the great lady.

Leaving a heavy purse behind her, as Vanens had instructed her, the
Marchioness departed with her escort. And there, with that
initiation, as far as we can ascertain, ended Louis de Vanens's
connection with the affair.

At Clagny Madame de Montespan waited for three days in a fever of
impatience for the coming of the witch. But when at last La Voisin
presented herself, the proposal that she had to make was one before
which the Marchioness recoiled in horror and some indignation.

The magic that La Voisin suggested involved a coadjutor, the Abbe
Guibourg, and the black mass to be celebrated by him. Madame de
Montespan had heard something of these dread sacrificial rites to
Satan; sufficient to fill her with loathing and disgust of the
whitefaced, beady-eyed woman who dared to insult her by the
proposal. She fumed and raged a while, and even went near to
striking La Voisin, who looked on with inscrutable face and stony,
almost contemptuous, indifference. Before that impenetrable,
almost uncanny, calm, Madame de Montespan's fury at last abated.
Then the urgency of her need becoming paramount, she desired more
clearly to be told what would be expected of her. What the witch
told her was more appalling than anything she could have imagined.
But La Voisin argued:

"Can anything be accomplished without cost? Can anything be gained
in this life without payment of some kind?"

"But the price of this is monstrous!" Madame de Montespan protested.

"Measure it by the worldly advantages to be gained. They are not
small, madame. To enjoy boundless wealth, boundless power, and
boundless honour, to be more than queen - is not all this worth
some sacrifice?"

To Madame de Montespan it must have been worth any sacrifice in this
world or the next, since in the end she conquered her disgust, and
agreed to lend herself to this horror.

Three masses, she was told, would be necessary to ensure success,
and it was determined that they should be celebrated in the chapel
of the Chateau de Villebousin, where Guibourg had been almoner, to
which he had access, and which was at the time untenanted.

The chateau was a gloomy mediaeval fortress, blackened by age, and
standing, surrounded by a moat, in a lonely spot some two miles to
the south of Paris. Thither on a dark, gusty night of March came
Madame de Montespan, accompanied by her confidential waiting-woman,
Mademoiselle Desceillets. They left the coach to await them on the
Orleans road, and thence, escorted by a single male attendant, they
made their way by a rutted, sodden path towards the grim castle
looming faintly through the enveloping gloom.

The wind howled dismally about the crenellated turrets; and a row
of poplars, standing like black, phantasmal guardians of the evil
place, bent groaning before its fury. From the running waters of
the moat, swollen by recent rains, came a gurgling sound that was
indescribably wicked.

Desocillets was frightened by the dark, the desolate loneliness and
eeriness of the place; but she dared utter no complaint as she
stumbled forward over the uneven ground, through the gloom and the
buffeting wind, compelled by the suasion of her mistress's imperious
will. Thus, by a drawbridge spanning dark, oily waters, they came
into a vast courtyard and an atmosphere as of mildew. A studded
door stood ajar, and through the gap, from a guiding beacon of
infamy, fell a rhomb of yellow light, suddenly obscured by a squat
female figure when the steps of the Marchioness and her companions
fell upon the stones of the yard.

It was La Voisin who stood on the threshold to receive her client.
In the stone-flagged hall behind her the light of a lantern revealed
her daughter, Marguerite Monvoisin, and a short, crafty-faced,
misshapen fellow in black homespun and a red wig - a magician named
Lesage, one of La Voisin's coadjutors, a rogue of some talent who
exploited the witches of Paris to his own profit.

Leaving Leroy - the Marchioness's male attendant below in this
fellow's company, La Voisin took up a candle and lighted Madame de
Montespan up the broad stone staircase, draughty and cold, to the
ante-room of the chapel on the floor above. Mademoiselle
Desceillets followed closely and fearfully, and Marguerite Monvoisin
came last.

They entered the ante-room, a spacious chamber, bare of furniture
save for an oaken table in the middle, some faded and mildewed
tapestries, and a cane-backed settle of twisted walnut over against
the wall. An alabaster lamp on the table made an island of light
in that place of gloom, and within the circle of its feeble rays
stood a gross old man of some seventy years of age in sacerdotal
garments of unusual design: the white alb worn over a greasy cassock
was studded with black fir-cones; the stole and maniple were of
black satin, with fir-cones wrought in yellow thread.

His inflamed countenance was of a revolting hideousness: his cheeks
were covered by a network of blue veins, his eyes squinted horribly,
his lips vanished inwards over toothless gums, and a fringe of white
hair hung in matted wisps from his high, bald crown. This was the
infamous Abbe Guibourg, sacristan of Saint Denis, an ordained
priest who had consecrated himself to the service of the Devil.

He received the great lady with a low bow which, despite herself,
she acknowledged by a shudder. She was very pale, and her eyes
were dilating and preternaturally bright. Fear began to possess
her, yet she suffered herself to be ushered into the chapel, which
was dimly illumined by a couple of candles standing beside a basin
on a table. The altar light had been extinguished. Her maid would
have hung back, but that she feared to be parted from her mistress.
She passed in with her in the wake of Guibourg, and followed by La
Voisin, who closed the door, leaving her daughter in the ante-room.

Although she had never been a participant in any of the sorceries
practised by her mother, yet Marguerite was fully aware of their
extent, and more than guessed what horrors were taking place beyond
the closed doors of the chapel. The very thought of them filled
her with loathing and disgust as she sat waiting, huddled in a
corner of the settle. And yet when presently through the closed
doors came the drone of the voice of that unclean celebrant, to
blend with the whine of the wind in the chimney, Marguerite, urged
by a morbid curiosity she could not conquer, crept shuddering to
the door, which directly faced the altar, and going down on her
knees applied her eye to the keyhole.

What she saw may very well have appalled her considering the exalted
station of Madame de Montespan. She beheld the white, sculptural
form of the royal favourite lying at full length supine upon the
altar, her arms outstretched, holding a lighted candle in each hand.
Immediately before her stood the Abbe Guibourg, his body screening
the chalice and its position from the eye of the watching girl.

She heard the whine of his voice pattering the Latin of the mass,
which he was reciting backwards from the last gospel; and
occasionally she heard responses muttered by her mother, who with
Mademoiselle Desceillets was beyond Marguerite's narrow range of
vision.

Apart from the interest lent to the proceedings by the presence of
the royal favourite the affair must have seemed now very stupid and
pointless to Marguerite, although she would certainly not have found
it so had she known enough Latin to understand the horrible
perversion of the Credo. But when the Offertory was reached,
matters suddenly quickened. In stealing away from the door, she
was no more than in time to avoid being caught spying by her mother,
who now issued from the chapel.

La Voisin crossed the ante-room briskly and went out.

Within a very few minutes she was back again, her approach now
heralded by the feeble, quavering squeals of a very young child.

Marguerite Monvoisin was sufficiently acquainted with the ghastly
rites to guess what was impending. She was young, and herself a
mother. She had her share of the maternal instinct alive in every
female animal - with the occasional exception of the human pervert
- and the hoarse, plaintive cries of that young child chilled her
to the soul with horror. She felt the skin roughening and
tightening upon her body, and a sense of physical sickness overcame
her. That and the fear of her mother kept her stiff and frozen in
an angle of the settle until La Voisin had passed through and
reentered the chapel bearing that piteous bundle in her arms.

Then, when the door had closed again, the girl, horrified and
fascinated, sped back to watch. She saw that unclean priest turn
and receive the child from La Voisin. As it changed hands its
cries were stilled.

Guibourg faced the altar once more, that little wisp of humanity
that was but a few days old held now aloft, naked, in his criminal
hands. His muttering, slobbering voice pronouncing the words of
that demoniac consecration reached the ears of the petrified girl
at the keyhole.

Ashtaroth, Asmodeus, Princes of Affection, I conjure you to
acknowledge the sacrifice I offer to you of this child for the
things I ask of you, which are that the King's love for me shall
be continued, and that honoured by princes and princesses nothing
shall be denied me of all that I may ask."

A sudden gust of wind smote and rattled the windows of the chapel
and the ante-room, as if the legions of hell had flung themselves
against the walls of the chateau. There was a rush and clatter in
the chimney of the ante-room's vast, empty fireplace, and through
the din Marguerite, as her failing limbs sank under her and she
slithered down in a heap against the chapel door, seemed to hear a
burst of exultantly cruel satanic laughter. With chattering teeth
and burning eyes she sat huddled, listening in terror. The child
began to cry again, more violently, more piteously; then, quite
suddenly, there was a little choking cough, a gurgle, the chink of
metal against earthenware, and silence.

When some moments later the squat figure of La Voisin emerged from
the chapel, Marguerite was back in the shadows, hunched on the
settle to which she had crawled. She saw that her mother now
carried a basin under her arm, and she did not need the evidence
of her eyes to inform her of the dreadful contents that the witch
was bearing away in it.

Meanwhile in the chapel the ineffably blasphemous rites proceeded.
To the warm human blood which had been caught in the consecrated
chalice, Guibourg had added, among other foulnesses, powdered
cantharides, the dust of desiccated moles, and the blood of bats.
By the addition of flour he had wrought the ingredients into an
ineffable paste, and over this, through the door, which La Voisin
had left ajar, Marguerite heard his voice pronouncing the dread
words of Transubstantiation.

Marguerite's horror mounted until it threatened to suffocate her.
It was as if some hellish miasma, released by Guibourg's monstrous
incantations, crept through to permeate and poison the air she
breathed.

It would be a half-hour later when Madame de Montespan at last came
out. She was of a ghastly pallor, her limbs shook and trembled
under her as she stepped forth, and there was a wild horror in her
staring eyes. Yet she contrived to carry herself almost defiantly
erect, and she spoke sharply to the half-swooning Desceillets, who
staggered after her.

She took her departure from that unholy place bearing with her the
host compounded of devilish ingredients which when dried and reduced
to powder was to be administered to the King to ensure the renewal
of his failing affection for her.

The Marchioness contrived that a creature of her own, an officer of
the buttery in her pay, should introduce it into the royal soup.
The immediate and not unnatural result was that the King was taken
violently ill, and Madame de Montespan's anxiety and suspense were
increased thereby. On his recovery, however, it would seem that
the demoniac sacrament - thrice repeated by then - had not been in
vain.

The sequel, indeed, appeared to justify Madame de Montespan's faith
in sorcery, and to compensate her for all the horror to which in
her despair she had submitted. Madame de Ludres found herself coldly
regarded by the convalescent King. Very soon she was discarded, the
Widow Scarron neglected, and the fickle monarch was once more at the
feet of the lovely marchioness, her utter and devoted slave.

Thus was Madame de Montespan "thunderously triumphant" once more,
and established as firmly as 'ever in the Sun-King's favour. Madame
de Sevigne, in speaking of this phase of their relations, dilates
upon the completeness of the reconciliation, and tells us that the
ardour of the first years seemed now to have returned. And for two
whole years it continued thus. Never before had Madame de
Montespan's sway been more absolute, no shadow came to trouble, the
serenity of her rule.

But it proved, after all, to be no more than the last flare of an
expiring fire that was definitely quenched at last, in 1679, by
Mademoiselle de Fontanges. A maid of honour to madame, she was a
child of not more than eighteen years, fair and flaxen, with pink
cheeks and large, childish eyes; and it was for this doll that the
regal Montespan now found herself discarded.

Honours rained upon the new favourite. Louis made her a duchess
with an income of twenty thousand livres, and deeply though this
may have disgusted his subjects, it disgusted Madame de Montespan
still more. Blinded by rage she openly abused the new duchess, and
provoked a fairly public scene with Louis, in which she gave him
her true opinion of him with a disturbing frankness.

"You dishonour yourself," she informed him among other things. "And
you betray your taste when you make love to a pink-and-white doll,
a little fool that has no more wit nor manners than if she were
painted on canvas!" Then, with an increase of scorn, she delivered
herself of an unpardonable apostrophe: "You, a king, to accept the
inheritance of that chit's rustic lovers! "

He flushed and scowled upon her.

"That is an infamous falsehood!" he exclaimed. "Madame, you are
unbearable!" He was very angry, and it infuriated him the more that
she should stand so coldly mocking before an anger that could bow
the proudest heads in France. "You have the pride of Satan, your
greed is insatiable, your domineering spirit utterly insufferable,
and you have the most false and poisonous tongue in the world!"

Her brutal answer bludgeoned that high divinity to earth.

"With all my imperfections," she sneered, "at least I do not smell
as badly as you do!"

It was an answer that extinguished her last chance. It was fatal
to the dignity, to the "terrible majesty" of Louis. It stripped
him of all divinity, and revealed him authoritatively as intensely
and even unpleasantly human. It was beyond hope of pardon.

His face turned the colour of wax. A glacial silence hung over the
agonized witnesses of that royal humiliation. Then, without a word,
in a vain attempt to rescue the dignity she had so cruelly mauled,
he turned, his red heels clicked rapidly and unsteadily across the
polished floor, and he was gone.

When Madame de Montespan realized exactly what she had done, nothing
but rage remained to her - rage and its offspring, vindictiveness.
The Duchess of Fontanges must not enjoy her victory, nor must Louis
escape punishment for his faithlessness. La Voisin should afford
her the means to accomplish this. And so she goes once more to the
Rue de la Tannerie.

Now, the matter of Madame de Montespan's present needs was one in
which the witches were particularIy expert. Were you troubled with
a rival, did your husband persist in surviving your affection for him,
did those from whom you had expectations cling obstinately and
inconsiderately to life, the witches by incantations and the use of
powders - in which arsenic was the dominant charm - could usually
put the matter right for you. Indeed, so wide and general was the
practice of poisoning become, that the authorities, lately aroused
to the fact by the sensational revelations of the Marchioness de
Brinvilliers, had set up in this year 1670 the tribunal known as
the Chambre Ardente to inquire into the matter, and to conduct
prosecutions.

La Voisin promised help to the Marchioness. She called in another
witch of horrible repute, named La Filastre, her coadjutor Lesage,
and two expert poisoners, Romani and Bertrand, who devised an
ingenious plot for the murder of the Duchess of Fontanges. They
were to visit her, Romani as a cloth merchant, and Bertrand as his
servant, to offer her their wares, including some Grenoble gloves,
which were the most beautiful gloves in the world and unfailingly
irresistible to ladies. These gloves they prepared in accordance
with certain magical recipes in such a way that the Duchess, after
wearing them, must die a lingering death in which there could be no
suspicion of poisoning.

The King was to be dealt with by means of a petition steeped in
similar powders, and should receive his death by taking it into his
hands. La Voisin herself was to go to Saint-Germain to present
this petition on Monday, March 13th, one of those days on which,
according to ancient custom, all comers were admitted to the royal
presence.

Thus they disposed. But Fate was already silently stalking La
Voisin.

It is to the fact that an obscure and vulgar woman had drunk one
glass of wine too many three months earlier that the King owed his
escape.

If you are interested in the almost grotesque disparity that can
lie between cause and effect, here is a subject for you. Three
months earlier a tailor named Vigoureux, whose wife secretly
practised magic, had entertained a few friends to dinner, amongst
whom was an intimate of his wife's, named Marie Bosse. This Marie
Bosse it was who drank that excessive glass of wine which, drowning
prudence, led her to boast of the famous trade she drove as a
fortune-teller to the nobility, and even to hint of something
further.

"Another three poisonings," she chuckled, "and I shall retire with
my fortune made!"

An attorney who was present pricked up his ears, bethought him of
the tales that were afloat, and gave information to the police.
The police set a trap for Marie Bosse, and she betrayed herself.
Later, under torture, she betrayed La Vigoureux. La Vigoureux
betrayed others, and these others again.

The arrest of Marie Bosse was like knocking down the first of a row
of ninepins, but none could have suspected that the last of these
stood in the royal apartments.

On the day before she was to repair to Saint-Germain, La Voisin,
betrayed in her turn, received a surprise visit from the police -
who, of course, had no knowledge of the regicide their action was
thwarting - and she was carried off to the Chatelet. Put to the
question, she revealed a great deal; but her terror of the horrible
punishment reserved for regicides prevented her to the day of her
death at the stake - in February of 1680 from saying a word of her
association with Madame de Montespan.

But there were others whom she betrayed under torture, and whose
arrest followed quickly upon her own, who had not her strength of
character. Among these were La Filastre and the magician Lesage.
When it was found that these two corroborated each other in the
incredible things which they related, the Chambre Ardente took
fright. La Reynie, who presided over it, laid the matter before
the King, and the King, horror-stricken by the discovery of the
revolting practices in which the mother of his children had been
engaged, suspended the sittings of the Chambre Ardente, and
commanded that no further proceedings should be taken against Lesage
and La Filastre, and none initiated against Romani, Bertrand, the
Abbe Guibourg, and the scores of other poisoners and magicians who
had been arrested, and who were acquainted with Madame de Montespan's
unholy traffic.

But it was not out of any desire to spare Madame de Montespan that
the King proceeded in this manner; he was concerned only to spare
himself and his royal dignity. He feared above all things the
scandal and ridicule which must touch him as a result of publicity,
and because he feared it so much, he could impose no punishment
upon Madame de Montespan.

This he made known to her at the interview between them procured by
his minister Louvois, at about the time that the sittings of the
Chambre Ardente were suspended.

To this interview that proud, domineering woman came in dread, and
in tears and humility for once. The King's bearing was cold and
hard. Cold and hard were the words in which he declared the extent
of his knowledge of her infamy, words which revealed the loathing
and disgust this knowledge brought him. If at first she was
terror-stricken, crushed under the indictment, yet she was never of
a temper to bear reproaches long. Under his scorn her anger kindled
and her humility was sloughed.

"What then?" she cried at last, eyes aflash through lingering tears.
"Is the blame all mine? If all this is true, it is no less true
that I was driven to it by my love for you and the despair to which
your heartlessness and infidelity reduced me. To you," she
continued, gathering force at every word, "I sacrificed everything
- my honour, a noble husband who loved me, all that a woman prizes.
And what did you give me in exchange? Your cruel fickleness exposed
me to the low mockery of the lick-spittles of your Court. Do you
wonder that I went mad, and that in my madness I sacrificed what
shreds of self-respect you had left me? And now it seems I have
lost all but life. Take that, too, if it be your pleasure. Heaven
knows it has little value left for me! But remember that in
striking me you strike the mother of your children - the legitimate
children of France. Remember that!"

He remembered it. Indeed, he was never in danger of forgetting it;
for she might have added that he would be striking also at himself
and at that royal dignity which was his religion. And so that all
scandalous comment might be avoided she was actually allowed to
remain at Court, although no longer in her first-floor apartments;
and it was not until ten years later that she departed to withdraw
to the community of Saint Joseph.

But even in her disgrace this woman, secretly convicted among other
abominations of attempting to procure the poisoning of the King and
of her rival, enjoyed an annual pension of 1,200.000 livres; whilst
none dared proceed against those who shared her guilt - not even
the infamous Guibourg, the poisoners Romani and Bertrand, and La
Filastre - nor yet against some scores of associates of these, who
were known to live by sorcery and poisonings, and who might be
privy to the part played by Madame de Montespan in that horrible
night of magic at the Chateau de Villebousin.

The hot blast of revolution was needed to sweep France clean.

VI. THE NIGHT OF WITCHCRAFT

LOUIS XIV AND MADAME DE MONTESPAN

If you scrape the rubbish-heap of servile, coeval flattery that
usually smothers the personality of a monarch, you will discover a
few kings who have been truly great; many who have achieved
greatness because they were wisely content to serve as masks for
the great intellects of their time; and, for the rest, some bad
kings, some foolish kings, and some ridiculous kings. But in all
that royal gallery of history you will hardly find a more truly
absurd figure than that of the resplendent Roi Soleil, the Grand
Monarque, the Fourteenth Louis of France.

I am not aware that he has ever been laughed at; certainly never
to the extent which he deserves. The flatterers of his day,
inevitable products of his reign, did their work so thoroughly that
even in secret they do not appear to have dared to utter - possibly
they did not even dare to think - the truth about him. Their work
survives, and when you have assessed the monstrous flattery at its
true worth, swept it aside and come down to the real facts of his
life, you make the discovery that the proudest title their
sycophancy could bestow and his own fatuity accept - Le Roi Soleil,
the Sun-King - makes him what indeed he is: a king of opera bouffe.
There is about him at times something almost reminiscent of the
Court buffoons of a century before, who puffed themselves out with
mock pride, and aped a sort of sovereignty to excite laughter; with
this difference, however, that in his own case it was not intended
to be amusing.

A heartless voluptuary of mediocre intelligence, he contrived to
wrap himself in what Saint-Simon has called a "terrible majesty."
He was obsessed by the idea of the dignity, almost the divinity - of
kingship. I cannot believe that he conceived himself human. He
appears to have held that being king was very like being God, and
he duped the world by ceremonials of etiquette that were very
nearly sacramental. We find him burdening the most simple and
personal acts of everyday life with a succession of rites of an
amazing complexity. Thus, when he rose in the morning, princes of
the blood and the first gentlemen of France were in attendance: one
to present to him his stockings, another to proffer on bended knee
the royal garters, a third to perform the ceremony of handing him
his wig, and so on until the toilette of his plump, not unhandsome
person was complete. You miss the incense, you feel that some
noble thurifer should have fumigated him at each stage. Perhaps
he never thought of it.

The evil fruits of his reign - evil, that is to say, from the point
of view of his order, which was swept away as so much anachronistic
rubbish - did not come until a hundred years later. In his own day
France was great, and this not because but in spite of him. After
all, he was not the absolute ruler he conceived himself. There were
such capable men as Colbert and Louvois at the King's side'; there
was the great genius of France which manifests itself when and as
it will, whatever the regime - and there was Madame de Montespan
to whose influence not a little of Louis's glory may be ascribed,
since the most splendid years of his reign were those between 1668
and 1678 when she was maitresse en titre and more than Queen of
France. The women played a great part at the Court of Louis XIV,
and those upon whom he turned his dark eyes were in the main as wax
under the solar rays of the Sun-King. But Madame de Montespan had
discovered the secret of reversing matters, so that in her hands it
was the King who became as wax for her modelling. It is with this
secret - a page of the secret history of France that we are here
concerned.

Francoises Athenais de Tonnay-Charente had come to Court in 1660 as
a maid of honour to the Queen. Of a wit and grace to match her
superb beauty, she was also of a perfervid piety, a daily
communicant, a model of virtue to all maids of honour. This until
the Devil tempted her. When that happened, she did not merely eat
an apple; she devoured an entire orchard. Pride and ambition
brought about her downfall. She shared the universal jealousy of
which Louise de la Valliere was a victim, and coveted the honours
and the splendour by which that unfortunate favourite was surrounded.

Not even her marriage with the Marquis de Montespan some three years
after her coming to Court sufficed to overcome the longings born of
her covetousness and ambition. And then, when the Sun-King looked
with favour upon her opulent charms, when at last she saw the object
of her ambition within reach, that husband of hers went very near
to wrecking everything by his unreasonable behaviour. This
preposterous marquis had the effrontery to dispute his wife with
Jupiter, was so purblind as not to appreciate the honour the Sun-King
proposed to do him.

In putting it thus, I but make myself the mouthpiece of the Court.

When Montespan began to make trouble by railing furiously against
the friendship of the King for his wife, his behaviour so amazed the
King's cousin, Mademoiselle de Montpensier, that she called him
"an extravagant and extraordinary man." To his face she told him
that he must be mad to behave in this fashion; and so incredibly
distorted were his views, that he did not at all agree with her.
He provoked scenes with the King, in which he quoted Scripture,
made opposite allusions to King David which were in the very worst
taste, and even ventured to suggest that the Sun-King might have
to reckon with the judgment of God. If he escaped a lettre de
cachet and a dungeon in the Bastille, it can only have been because
the King feared the further spread of a scandal injurious to the
sacrosanctity of his royal dignity.

The Marchioness fumed in private and sneered in public. When
Mademoiselle de Montpensier suggested that for his safety's sake
she should control her husband's antics, she expressed her
bitterness.

"He and my parrot," she said, "amuse the Court to my shame."

In the end, finding that neither by upbraiding the King nor by
beating his wife could he prevail, Monsieur de Montespan resigned
himself after his own fashion. He went into widower's mourning,
dressed his servants in black, and came ostentatiously to Court in
a mourning coach to take ceremonious leave of his friends. It was
an affair that profoundly irritated the Sun-King, and very nearly
made him ridiculous.

Thereafter Montespan abandoned his wife to the King. He withdrew
first to his country seat, and, later, from France, having
received more than a hint that Louis was intending to settle his
score with him. By that time Madame de Montespan was firmly
established as maitresse en titre, and in January of 1669 she gave
birth to the Duke of Maine, the first of the seven children she
was to bear the King. Parliament was to legitimize them all,
declaring them royal children of France, and the country was to
provide titles, dignities, and royal rent-rolls for them and their
heirs forever. Do you wonder that there was a revolution a century
later, and that the people, grown weary of the parasitic anachronism
of royalty, should have risen to throw off the intolerable burden
it imposed upon them?

The splendour of Madame de Montespan in those days was something
the like of which had never been seen at the Court of France. On
her estate of Clagny, near Versailles, stood now a magnificent
chateau. Louis had begun by building a country villa, which
satisfied her not at all.

"That," she told him, "might do very well for an opera-girl";
whereupon the infatuated monarch had no alternative but to command
its demolition, and call in the famous architect, Mansard, to erect
in its place an ultra royal residence.

At Versailles itself, whilst the long-suffering Queen had to be
content with ten rooms on the second floor, Madame de Montespan was
installed in twice that number on the first; and whilst a simple
page sufficed to carry the Queen's train at Court, nothing less than
the wife of a marshal of France must perform the same office for the
favourite. She kept royal state as few queens have ever kept it.
She was assigned a troop of royal bodyguards for escort, and when
she travelled there was a never-ending train to follow her six-horse
coach, and officers of State came to receive her with royal honours
wherever she passed.

In her immeasurable pride she became a tyrant, even over the King
himself.

"Thunderous and triumphant," Madame de Sevigne describes her in
those days when the Sun-King was her utter and almost timid slave.

But constancy is not a Jovian virtue. Jupiter grew restless, and
then, shaking off all restraint, plunged into inconstancy of the
most scandalous and flagrant kind. It is doubtful if the history
of royal amours, with all its fecundity, can furnish a parallel.
Within a few months, Madame de Soubise, Mademoiselle de
Rochefort-Theobon, Madame de Louvigny, Madame de Ludres, and some
lesser ones passed in rapid succession through the furnace of the
Sun-King's affection - which is to say, through the royal bed -
and at last the Court was amazed to see the Widow Scarron, who had
been appointed governess to Madame de Montespan's royal children,
empanoplied in a dignity and ceremony that left no doubt on the
score of her true position at Court.

And so, after seven years of absolute sway in which homage had been
paid her almost in awe by noble and simple alike, Madame de
Montespan, neglected now by Louis, moved amid reflections of that
neglect, with arrogantly smiling lips and desperate rage in her
heart. She sneered openly at the royal lack of taste, allowed her
barbed wit to make offensive sport with the ladies who supplanted
her; yet, ravaged by jealousy, she feared for herself the fate
which through her had overtaken La Valliere.

That fear was with her now as she sat in the window embrasure, hell
in her heart and a reflection of it in her eyes, as, fallen almost
to the rank of a spectator in that comedy wherein she was accustomed
to the leading part, she watched the shifting, chattering,
glittering crowd. And as she watched, her line of vision was
crossed to her undoing by the slender, well-knit figure of de Vanens,
who, dressed from head to foot in black, detached sharply from that
dazzling throng. His face was pale and saturnine, his eyes dark,
very level, and singularly piercing. Thus his appearance served to
underline the peculiar fascination which he exerted, the rather
sinister appeal which he made to the imagination.

This young Provencal nobleman was known to dabble in magic, and
there were one or two dark passages in his past life of which more
than a whisper had gone abroad. Of being a student of alchemy, a
"philosopher" - that is to say, a seeker after the philosopher's
stone, which was to effect the transmutation of metals - he made
no secret. But if you taxed him with demoniacal practices he would
deny it, yet in a way that carried no conviction.

To this dangerous fellow Madame de Montespan now made appeal in her
desperate need.

Their eyes met as he was sauntering past, and with a lazy smile and
a languid wave of her fan she beckoned him to her side.

"They tell me, Vanens," said she, "that your philosophy succeeds
so well that you are transmuting copper into silver."

His piercing eyes surveyed her, narrowing; a smile flickered over
his thin lips.

"They tell you the truth," he said. "I have cast a bar which has
been purchased as good silver by the Mint."

Her interest quickened. "By the Mint!" she echoed, amazed. "But,
then, my friend - " She was breathless with excitement. "It is
a miracle."

"No less," he admitted. "But there is the greater miracle to come
- the transmutation of base metal into gold."

"And you will perform it?"

"Let me but conquer the secret of solidifying mercury, and the rest
is naught. I shall conquer it, and soon."

He spoke with easy confidence, a man stating something that he knew
beyond the possibility of doubt. The Marquise became thoughtful.
She sighed.

"You are the master of deep secrets, Vanens. Have you none that
will soften flinty hearts, make them responsive?"

He considered this woman whom Saint-Simon has called "beautiful as
the day," and his smile broadened.

"Look in your mirror for the alchemy needed there," he bade her.

Anger rippled across the perfect face. She lowered

"I have looked - in vain. Can you not help me, Vanens, you who
know so much?"

"A love-philtre?" said he, and hummed. "Are you in earnest?"

"Do you mock me with that question? Is not my need proclaimed for
all to see?"

Vanens became grave.

"It is not an alchemy in which myself I dabble," he said slowly.
"But I am acquainted with those who do."

She clutched his wrist in her eagerness.

"I will pay well," she said.

"You will need to. Such things are costly." He glanced round to
see that none was listening, then bending nearer: "There is a
sorceress named La Voisin in the Rue de la Tannerie, well known as
a fortuneteller to many ladies of the Court, who at a word from me
will do your need."

La Montespan turned white. The piety in which she had been reared
- the habits of which clung to her despite the irregularity of her
life-made her recoil before the thing that she desired. Sorcery
was of the Devil. She told him so. But Vanens laughed.

"So that it be effective . . ." said he with a shrug.

And then across the room floated a woman's trilling laugh. She
looked in the direction of the sound and beheld the gorgeous figure
of the King bending - yet haughty and condescending even in
adoration - over handsome Madame de Ludres. Pride and ambition
rose up in sudden fury to trample on religious feeling. Let Vanens
take her to this witch of his, for be the aid what it might, she
must have it.

And so, one dark night late in the year, Louis de Vanens handed a
masked and muffled lady from a coach at the corner of the Rue de
la Tannerie, and conducted her to the house of La Voisin.

The door was opened for them by a young woman of some twenty years
of age - Marguerite Monvoisin, the daughter of the witch - who led
them upstairs to a room that was handsomely furnished and hung with
fantastic tapestry of red designs upon a black ground - designs that
took monstrous shapes in the flickering light of a cluster of
candles. Black curtains parted, and from between them stepped a
short, plump woman, of a certain comeliness, with two round black
beads of eyes. She was fantastically robed in a cloak of crimson
velvet, lined with costly furs and closely studded with double-headed
eagles in fine gold, which must have been worth a prince's ransom;
and she wore red shoes on each of which there was the same eagle
design in gold.

"Ah, Vanens!" she said familiarly.

He bowed.

"I bring you," he announced, "a lady who has need of your skill."

And he waved a hand towards the tall cloaked figure at his side.

La Voisin looked at the masked face.

"Velvet faces tell me little, Madame la Marquise," she said calmly.
"Nor, believe me, will the King look at a countenance that you
conceal from me."

There was an exclamation of surprise and anger from Madame de
Montespan. She plucked off her mask.

"You knew me?"

"Can you wonder?" asked La Voisin, "since I have told you what you
carry concealed in your heart?"

Madame de Montespan was as credulous as only the very devout can be.

"Since that is so, since you know already what I seek, tell me can
you procure it me?" she asked in a fever of excitement. "I will
pay well."

La Voisin smiled darkly.

"Obdurate, indeed, is the case that will not yield to such medicine
as mine," she said. "Let me consider first what must be done. In
a few days I shall bring you word. But have you courage for a great
ordeal?"

"For any ordeal that will give me what I want."

"In a few days, then, you shall hear from me," said the witch, and
so dismissed the great lady.

Leaving a heavy purse behind her, as Vanens had instructed her, the
Marchioness departed with her escort. And there, with that
initiation, as far as we can ascertain, ended Louis de Vanens's
connection with the affair.

At Clagny Madame de Montespan waited for three days in a fever of
impatience for the coming of the witch. But when at last La Voisin
presented herself, the proposal that she had to make was one before
which the Marchioness recoiled in horror and some indignation.

The magic that La Voisin suggested involved a coadjutor, the Abbe
Guibourg, and the black mass to be celebrated by him. Madame de
Montespan had heard something of these dread sacrificial rites to
Satan; sufficient to fill her with loathing and disgust of the
white-faced, beady-eyed woman who dared to insult her by the
proposal. She fumed and raged a while, and even went near to
striking La Voisin, who looked on with inscrutable face and stony,
almost contemptuous, indifference. Before that impenetrable,
almost uncanny, calm, Madame de Montespan's fury at last abated.
Then the urgency of her need becoming paramount, she desired more
clearly to be told what would be expected of her. What the witch
told her was more appalling than anything she could have imagined.
But La Voisin argued:

"Can anything be accomplished without cost? Can anything be gained
in this life without payment of some kind?"

"But the price of this is monstrous!" Madame de Montespan protested.

"Measure it by the worldly advantages to be gained. They are not
small, madame. To enjoy boundless wealth, boundless power, and
boundless honour, to be more than queen - is not all this worth
some sacrifice?"

To Madame de Montespan it must have been worth any sacrifice in this
world or the next, since in the end she conquered her disgust, and
agreed to lend herself to this horror.

Three masses, she was told, would be necessary to ensure success,
and it was determined that they should be celebrated in the chapel
of the Chateau de Villebousin, where Guibourg had been almoner, to
which he had access, and which was at the time untenanted.

The chateau was a gloomy mediaeval fortress, blackened by age, and
standing, surrounded by a moat, in a lonely spot some two miles to
the south of Paris. Thither on a dark, gusty night of March came
Madame de Montespan, accompanied by her confidential waiting-woman,
Mademoiselle Desoeillets. They left the coach to await them on the
Orleans road, and thence, escorted by a single male attendant, they
made their way by a rutted, sodden path towards the grim castle
looming faintly through the enveloping gloom.

The wind howled dismally about the crenellated turrets; and a row
of poplars, standing like black, phantasmal guardians of the evil
place, bent groaning before its fury. From the running waters of
the moat, swollen by recent rains, came a gurgling sound that was
indescribably wicked.

Desoeillets was frightened by the dark, the desolate loneliness and
eeriness of the place; but she dared utter no complaint as she
stumbled forward over the uneven ground, through the gloom and the
buffeting wind, compelled by the suasion of her mistress's imperious
will. Thus, by a drawbridge spanning dark, oily waters, they came
into a vast courtyard and an atmosphere as of mildew. A studded
door stood ajar, and through the gap, from a guiding beacon of
infamy, fell a rhomb of yellow light, suddenly obscured by a squat
female figure when the steps of the Marchioness and her companions
fell upon the stones of the yard.

It was La Voisin who stood on the threshold to receive her client.
In the stone-flagged hall behind her the light of a lantern revealed
her daughter, Marguerite Monvoisin, and a short, crafty-faced,
misshapen fellow in black homespun and a red wig - a magician named
Lesage, one of La Voisin's coadjutors, a rogue of some talent who
exploited the witches of Paris to his own profit.

Leaving Leroy - the Marchioness's male attendant below in this
fellow's company, La Voisin took up a candle and lighted Madame de
Montespan up the broad stone staircase, draughty and cold, to the
ante-room of the chapel on the floor above. Mademoiselle
Desoeillets followed closely and fearfully, and Marguerite Monvoisin
came last.

They entered the ante-room, a spacious chamber, bare of furniture
save for an oaken table in the middle, some faded and mildewed
tapestries, and a cane-backed settle of twisted walnut over against
the wall. An alabaster lamp on the table made an island of light
in that place of gloom, and within the circle of its feeble rays
stood a gross old man of some seventy years of age in sacerdotal
garments of unusual design: the white alb worn over a greasy cassock
was studded with black fir-cones; the stole and maniple were of
black satin, with fir-cones wrought in yellow thread.

His inflamed countenance was of a revolting hideousness: his cheeks
were covered by a network of blue veins, his eyes squinted horribly,
his lips vanished inwards over toothless gums, and a fringe of white
hair hung in matted wisps from his high, bald crown. This was the
infamous Abbe Guibourg, sacristan of Saint Denis, an ordained
priest who had consecrated himself to the service of the Devil.

He received the great lady with a low bow which, despite herself,
she acknowledged by a shudder. She was very pale, and her eyes
were dilating and preternaturally bright. Fear began to possess
her, yet she suffered herself to be ushered into the chapel, which
was dimly illumined by a couple of candles standing beside a basin
on a table. The altar light had been extinguished. Her maid would
have hung back, but that she feared to be parted from her mistress.
She passed in with her in the wake of Guibourg, and followed by La
Voisin, who closed the door, leaving her daughter in the ante-room.

Although she had never been a participant in any of the sorceries
practised by her mother, yet Marguerite was fully aware of their
extent, and more than guessed what horrors were taking place beyond
the closed doors of the chapel. The very thought of them filled
her with loathing and disgust as she sat waiting, huddled in a
corner of the settle. And yet when presently through the closed
doors came the drone of the voice of that unclean celebrant, to
blend with the whine of the wind in the chimney, Marguerite, urged
by a morbid curiosity she could not conquer, crept shuddering to
the door, which directly faced the altar, and going down on her
knees applied her eye to the keyhole.

What she saw may very well have appalled her considering the exalted
station of Madame de Montespan. She beheld the white, sculptural
form of the royal favourite lying at full length supine upon the
altar, her arms outstretched, holding a lighted candle in each hand.
Immediately before her stood the Abbe Guibourg, his body screening
the chalice and its position from the eye of the watching girl.

She heard the whine of his voice pattering the Latin of the mass,
which he was reciting backwards from the last gospel; and
occasionally she heard responses muttered by her mother, who with
Mademoiselle Desoeillets was beyond Marguerite's narrow range of
vision.

Apart from the interest lent to the proceedings by the presence of
the royal favourite the affair must have seemed now very stupid and
pointless to Marguerite, although she would certainly not have found
it so had she known enough Latin to understand the horrible
perversion of the Credo. But when the Offertory was reached,
matters suddenly quickened. In stealing away from the door, she
was no more than in time to avoid being caught spying by her mother,
who now issued from the chapel.

La Voisin crossed the ante-room briskly and went out.

Within a very few minutes she was back again, her approach now
heralded by the feeble, quavering squeals of a very young child.

Marguerite Monvoisin was sufficiently acquainted with the ghastly
rites to guess what was impending. She was young, and herself a
mother. She had her share of the maternal instinct alive in every
female animal - with the occasional exception of the human pervert
- and the hoarse, plaintive cries of that young child chilled her
to the soul with horror. She felt the skin roughening and
tightening upon her body, and a sense of physical sickness overcame
her. That and the fear of her mother kept her stiff and frozen in
an angle of the settle until La Voisin had passed through and
reentered the chapel bearing that piteous bundle in her arms.

Then, when the door had closed again, the girl, horrified and
fascinated, sped back to watch. She saw that unclean priest turn
and receive the child from La Voisin. As it changed hands its
cries were stilled.

Guibourg faced the altar once more, that little wisp of humanity
that was but a few days old held now aloft, naked, in his criminal
hands. His muttering, slobbering voice pronouncing the words of
that demoniac consecration reached the ears of the petrified girl
at the keyhole.

Ashtaroth, Asmodeus, Princes of Affection, I conjure you to
acknowledge the sacrifice I offer to you of this child for the
things I ask of you, which are that the King's love for me shall
be continued, and that honoured by princes and princesses nothing
shall be denied me of all that I may ask."

A sudden gust of wind smote and rattled the windows of the chapel
and the ante-room, as if the legions of hell had flung themselves
against the walls of the chateau. There was a rush and clatter in
the chimney of the ante-room's vast, empty fireplace, and through
the din Marguerite, as her failing limbs sank under her and she
slithered down in a heap against the chapel door, seemed to hear a
burst of exultantly cruel satanic laughter. With chattering teeth
and burning eyes she sat huddled, listening in terror. The child
began to cry again, more violently, more piteously; then, quite
suddenly, there was a little choking cough, a gurgle, the chink of
metal against earthenware, and silence.

When some moments later the squat figure of La Voisin emerged from
the chapel, Marguerite was back in the shadows, hunched on the
settle to which she had crawled. She saw that her mother now
carried a basin under her arm, and she did not need the evidence
of her eyes to inform her of the dreadful contents that the witch
was bearing away in it.

Meanwhile in the chapel the ineffably blasphemous rites proceeded.
To the warm human blood which had been caught in the consecrated
chalice, Guibourg had added, among other foulnesses, powdered
cantharides, the dust of desiccated moles, and the blood of bats.
By the addition of flour he had wrought the ingredients into an
ineffable paste, and over this, through the door, which La Voisin
had left ajar, Marguerite heard his voice pronouncing the dread
words of Transubstantiation.

Marguerite's horror mounted until it threatened to suffocate her.
It was as if some hellish miasma, released by Guibourg's monstrous
incantations, crept through to permeate and poison the air she
breathed.

It would be a half-hour later when Madame de Montespan at last came
out. She was of a ghastly pallor, her limbs shook and trembled
under her as she stepped forth, and there was a wild horror in her
staring eyes. Yet she contrived to carry herself almost defiantly
erect, and she spoke sharply to the half-swooning Desoeillets, who
staggered after her.

She took her departure from that unholy place bearing with her the
host compounded of devilish ingredients which when dried and reduced
to powder was to be administered to the King to ensure the renewal
of his failing affection for her.

The Marchioness contrived that a creature of her own, an officer of
the buttery in her pay, should introduce it into the royal soup.
The immediate and not unnatural result was that the King was taken
violently ill, and Madame de Montespan's anxiety and suspense were
increased thereby. On his recovery, however, it would seem that
the demoniac sacrament - thrice repeated by then - had not been in
vain.

The sequel, indeed, appeared to justify Madame de Montespan's faith
in sorcery, and to compensate her for all the horror to which in
her despair she had submitted. Madame de Ludres found herself coldly
regarded by the convalescent King. Very soon she was discarded, the
Widow Scarron neglected, and the fickle monarch was once more at the
feet of the lovely marchioness, her utter and devoted slave.

Thus was Madame de Montespan "thunderously triumphant" once more,
and established as firmly as 'ever in the Sun-King's favour. Madame
de Sevigne, in speaking of this phase of their relations, dilates
upon the completeness of the reconciliation, and tells us that the
ardour of the first years seemed now to have returned. And for two
whole years it continued thus. Never before had Madame de
Montespan's sway been more absolute, no shadow came to trouble, the
serenity of her rule.

But it proved, after all, to be no more than the last flare of an
expiring fire that was definitely quenched at last, in 1679, by
Mademoiselle de Fontanges. A maid of honour to madame, she was a
child of not more than eighteen years, fair and flaxen, with pink
cheeks and large, childish eyes; and it was for this doll that the
regal Montespan now found herself discarded.

Honours rained upon the new favourite. Louis made her a duchess
with an income of twenty thousand livres, and deeply though this
may have disgusted his subjects, it disgusted Madame de Montespan
still more. Blinded by rage she openly abused the new duchess, and
provoked a fairly public scene with Louis, in which she gave him
her true opinion of him with a disturbing frankness.

"You dishonour yourself," she informed him among other things. "And
you betray your taste when you make love to a pink-and-white doll,
a little fool that has no more wit nor manners than if she were
painted on canvas!" Then, with an increase of scorn, she delivered
herself of an unpardonable apostrophe: "You, a king, to accept the
inheritance of that chit's rustic lovers! "

He flushed and scowled upon her.

"That is an infamous falsehood!" he exclaimed. "Madame, you are
unbearable!" He was very angry, and it infuriated him the more that
she should stand so coldly mocking before an anger that could bow
the proudest heads in France. "You have the pride of Satan, your
greed is insatiable, your domineering spirit utterly insufferable,
and you have the most false and poisonous tongue in the world!"

Her brutal answer bludgeoned that high divinity to earth.

"With all my imperfections," she sneered, "at least I do not smell
as badly as you do!"

It was an answer that extinguished her last chance. It was fatal
to the dignity, to the "terrible majesty" of Louis. It stripped
him of all divinity, and revealed him authoritatively as intensely
and even unpleasantly human. It was beyond hope of pardon.

His face turned the colour of wax. A glacial silence hung over the
agonized witnesses of that royal humiliation. Then, without a word,
in a vain attempt to rescue the dignity she had so cruelly mauled,
he turned, his red heels clicked rapidly and unsteadily across the
polished floor, and he was gone.

When Madame de Montespan realized exactly what she had done, nothing
but rage remained to her - rage and its offspring, vindictiveness.
The Duchess of Fontanges must not enjoy her victory, nor must Louis
escape punishment for his faithlessness. La Voisin should afford
her the means to accomplish this. And so she goes once more to the
Rue de la Tannerie.

Now, the matter of Madame de Montespan's present needs was one in
which the witches were particularly expert. Were you troubled with
a rival, did your husband persist in surviving your affection for him,
did those from whom you had expectations cling obstinately and
inconsiderately to life, the witches by incantations and the use of
powders - in which arsenic was the dominant charm - could usually
put the matter right for you. Indeed, so wide and general was the
practice of poisoning become, that the authorities, lately aroused
to the fact by the sensational revelations of the Marchioness de
Brinvilliers, had set up in this year 1670 the tribunal known as
the Chambre Ardente to inquire into the matter, and to conduct
prosecutions.

La Voisin promised help to the Marchioness. She called in another
witch of horrible repute, named La Filastre, her coadjutor Lesage,
and two expert poisoners, Romani and Bertrand, who devised an
ingenious plot for the murder of the Duchess of Fontanges. They
were to visit her, Romani as a cloth merchant, and Bertrand as his
servant, to offer her their wares, including some Grenoble gloves,
which were the most beautiful gloves in the world and unfailingly
irresistible to ladies. These gloves they prepared in accordance
with certain magical recipes in such a way that the Duchess, after
wearing them, must die a lingering death in which there could be no
suspicion of poisoning.

The King was to be dealt with by means of a petition steeped in
similar powders, and should receive his death by taking it into his
hands. La Voisin herself was to go to Saint-Germain to present
this petition on Monday, March 13th, one of those days on which,
according to ancient custom, all comers were admitted to the royal
presence.

Thus they disposed. But Fate was already silently stalking La
Voisin.

It is to the fact that an obscure and vulgar woman had drunk one
glass of wine too many three months earlier that the King owed his
escape.

If you are interested in the almost grotesque disparity that can
lie between cause and effect, here is a subject for you. Three
months earlier a tailor named Vigoureux, whose wife secretly
practised magic, had entertained a few friends to dinner, amongst
whom was an intimate of his wife's, named Marie Bosse. This Marie
Bosse it was who drank that excessive glass of wine which, drowning
prudence, led her to boast of the famous trade she drove as a
fortune-teller to the nobility, and even to hint of something
further.

"Another three poisonings," she chuckled, "and I shall retire with
my fortune made!"

An attorney who was present pricked up his ears, bethought him of
the tales that were afloat, and gave information to the police.
The police set a trap for Marie Bosse, and she betrayed herself.
Later, under torture, she betrayed La Vigoureux. La Vigoureux
betrayed others, and these others again.

The arrest of Marie Bosse was like knocking down the first of a row
of ninepins, but none could have suspected that the last of these
stood in the royal apartments.

On the day before she was to repair to Saint-Germain, La Voisin,
betrayed in her turn, received a surprise visit from the police -
who, of course, had no knowledge of the regicide their action was
thwarting - and she was carried off to the Chatelet. Put to the
question, she revealed a great deal; but her terror of the horrible
punishment reserved for regicides prevented her to the day of her
death at the stake - in February of 1680 from saying a word of her
association with Madame de Montespan.

But there were others whom she betrayed under torture, and whose
arrest followed quickly upon her own, who had not her strength of
character. Among these were La Filastre and the magician Lesage.
When it was found that these two corroborated each other in the
incredible things which they related, the Chambre Ardente took
fright. La Reynie, who presided over it, laid the matter before
the King, and the King, horror-stricken by the discovery of the
revolting practices in which the mother of his children had been
engaged, suspended the sittings of the Chambre Ardente, and
commanded that no further proceedings should be taken against Lesage
and La Filastre, and none initiated against Romani, Bertrand, the
Abbe Guibourg, and the scores of other poisoners and magicians who
had been arrested, and who were acquainted with Madame de Montespan's
unholy traffic.

But it was not out of any desire to spare Madame de Montespan that
the King proceeded in this manner; he was concerned only to spare
himself and his royal dignity. He feared above all things the
scandal and ridicule which must touch him as a result of publicity,
and because he feared it so much, he could impose no punishment
upon Madame de Montespan.

This he made known to her at the interview between them procured by
his minister Louvois, at about the time that the sittings of the
Chambre Ardente were suspended.

To this interview that proud, domineering woman came in dread, and
in tears and humility for once. The King's bearing was cold and
hard. Cold and hard were the words in which he declared the extent
of his knowledge of her infamy, words which revealed the loathing
and disgust this knowledge brought him. If at first she was
terror-stricken, crushed under the indictment, yet she was never of
a temper to bear reproaches long. Under his scorn her anger kindled
and her humility was sloughed.

"What then?" she cried at last, eyes aflash through lingering tears.
"Is the blame all mine? If all this is true, it is no less true
that I was driven to it by my love for you and the despair to which
your heartlessness and infidelity reduced me. To you," she
continued, gathering force at every word, "I sacrificed everything
- my honour, a noble husband who loved me, all that a woman prizes.
And what did you give me in exchange? Your cruel fickleness exposed
me to the low mockery of the lick-spittles of your Court. Do you
wonder that I went mad, and that in my madness I sacrificed what
shreds of self-respect you had left me? And now it seems I have
lost all but life. Take that, too, if it be your pleasure. Heaven
knows it has little value left for me! But remember that in
striking me you strike the mother of your children - the legitimate
children of France. Remember that!"

He remembered it. Indeed, he was never in danger of forgetting it;
for she might have added that he would be striking also at himself
and at that royal dignity which was his religion. And so that all
scandalous comment might be avoided she was actually allowed to
remain at Court, although no longer in her first-floor apartments;
and it was not until ten years later that she departed to withdraw
to the community of Saint Joseph.

But even in her disgrace this woman, secretly convicted among other
abominations of attempting to procure the poisoning of the King and
of her rival, enjoyed an annual pension of 1,200,000 livres; whilst
none dared proceed against those who shared her guilt - not even
the infamous Guibourg, the poisoners Romani and Bertrand, and La
Filastre - nor yet against some scores of associates of these, who
were known to live by sorcery and poisonings, and who might be
privy to the part played by Madame de Montespan in that horrible
night of magic at the Chateau de Villebousin.

The hot blast of revolution was needed to sweep France clean.

VII. THE NIGHT OF GEMS

THE "AFFAIRS" OF THE QUEEN'S NECKLACE

Under the stars of a tepid, scented night of August of 1784, Prince
Louis de Rohan, Cardinal of Strasbourg, Grand Almoner of France,
made his way with quickened pulses through the Park of Versailles
to a momentous assignation in the Grove of Venus.

This illustrious member of an illustrious House, that derived from
both the royal lines of Valois and Bourbon, was a man in the prime
of life, of a fine height, still retaining something of the willowy
slenderness that had been his in youth, and of a gentle, almost
womanly beauty of countenance.

In a grey cloak and a round, grey hat with gold cords, followed
closely by two shadowy attendant figures, he stepped briskly amain,
eager to open those gates across the path of his ambition, locked
against him hitherto by the very hands from which he now went to
receive the key.

He deserves your sympathy, this elegant Cardinal-Prince, who had been
the victim of the malice and schemings of the relentless Austrian
Empress since the days when he represented the King of France at the
Court of Vienna.

The state he had kept there had been more than royal and royal in
the dazzling French manner, which was perturbing to a woman of
Marie Therese's solid German notions. His hunting-parties, his
supper-parties, the fetes he gave upon every occasion, the worldly
inventiveness, the sumptuousness and reckless extravagance that
made each of these affairs seem like a supplement to "The Arabian
Nights' Entertainments," the sybaritic luxury of his surroundings,
the incredible prodigality of his expenditure, all served profoundly
to scandalize and embitter the Empress.

That a priest in gay, secular clothes should hunt the stag on
horseback filled her with horror at his levity; that he should flirt
discreetly with the noble ladies of Vienna made her despair of his
morals; whilst his personal elegance and irresistible charm were
proofs to her of a profligacy that perverted the Court over which
she ruled.

She laboured for the extinction of his pernicious brilliance, and
intrigued for his recall. She made no attempt to conceal her
hostility, nor did she love him any the better because he met her
frigid haughtiness with an ironical urbanity that seemed ever to
put her in the wrong. And then one day he permitted his wit to be
bitingly imprudent.

"Marie Therese," he wrote to D'Aiguillon, "holds in one hand a
handkerchief to receive her tears for the misfortunes of oppressed
Poland, and in the other a sword to continue its partition."

To say that in this witticism lay one of the causes of the French
Revolution may seem at first glance an outrageous overstatement.
Yet it is certain that, but for that imprudent phrase, the need
would never have arisen that sent Rohan across the Park of Versailles
on that August night to an assignation that in the sequel was to
place a terrible weapon in the hands of the Revolutionary party.

D'Aiguillon had published the gibe. It had reached the ears of
Marie Antoinette, and from her it had travelled back to her mother
in Vienna. It aroused in the Empress a resentment and a bitterness
that did not rest until the splendid Cardinal-Prince was recalled
from his embassy. It did not rest even then. By the ridicule to
which the gibe exposed her - and if you know Marie Therese at all,
you can imagine what that meant - it provoked a hostility that was
indefatigably to labour against him.

The Cardinal was ambitious, he had confidence in his talents and in
the driving force of his mighty family, and he looked to become
another Richelieu or Mazarin, the first Minister of the Crown, the
empurpled ruler of France, the guiding power behind the throne. All
this he looked confidently to achieve; all this he might have
achieved but for the obstacle that Marie Therese's resentment flung
across his path. The Empress saw to it that, through the person of
her daughter, her hatred should pursue him even into France.

Obedient ever to the iron will of her mother, sharing her mother's
resentment, Marie Antoinette exerted all her influence to thwart
this Cardinal whom her mother had taught her to regard as a
dangerous, unprincipled man.

On his return from Vienna bearing letters from Marie Therese to
Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, the Cardinal found himself coldly
received by the dull King, and discouraged from remaining at Court,
whilst the Queen refused to grant him so much as the audience
necessary for the delivery of these letters, desiring him to forward
them instead.

The chagrined Cardinal had no illusions. He beheld here the hand
of Marie Therese controlling Marie Antoinette, and, through Marie
Antoinette, the King himself. Worse followed. He who had dreamt
himself another Richelieu could only with difficulty obtain the
promised position of Grand Almoner of France, and this solely as a
result of the powerful and insistent influence exerted by his family.

He perceived that if he was to succeed at all he must begin by
softening the rigorous attitude which the Queen maintained towards
him. To that end he addressed himself. But three successive letters
he wrote to the Queen remained unanswered. Through other channels
persistently he begged for an audience that he might come in person
to express his regrets for the offending indiscretion. But the Queen
remained unmoved, ruled ever by the Austrian Empress, who through
her daughter sought to guide the affairs of France.

Rohan was reduced to despair, and then in an evil hour his path was
crossed by Jeanne de la Motte de Valois, who enjoyed the reputation
of secretly possessing the friendship of the Queen, exerting a sort
of back-stair influence, and who lived on that reputation.

As a drowning man clutches at a straw, so the Cardinal-Prince Louis
de Rohan, Grand Almoner of France, Landgrave of Alsace, Commander
of the Order of the Holy Ghost, clutched at this faiseuse d'affaires
to help him in his desperate need.

Jeanne de la Motte de Valois - perhaps the most astounding
adventuress that ever lived by her wits and her beauty - had begun
life by begging her bread in the streets. She laid claim to
left-handed descent from the royal line of Valois, and, her claim
supported by the Marchioness Boulainvilliers, who had befriended
her, she had obtained from the Crown a small pension, and had
married the unscrupulous Marc Antoine de la Motte, a young soldier
in the Burgundy regiment of the Gendarmerie.

Later, in the autumn of 1786, her protectress presented her to
Cardinal de Rohan. His Eminence, interested in the lady's
extraordinary history, in her remarkable beauty, vivacity, and wit,
received the De la Mottes at his sumptuous chateau at Saverne, near
Strasbourg, heard her story in greater detail, promised his
protection, and as an earnest of his kindly intentions obtained for
her husband a captain's commission in the Dragoons.

Thereafter you see the De la Mottes in Paris and at Versailles,
hustled from lodging to lodging for failure to pay what they owe;
and finally installed in a house in the Rue Neuve Saint-Gilles.
There they kept a sort of state, spending lavishly, now the money
borrowed from the Cardinal, or upon the Cardinal's security; now
the proceeds of pawned goods that had been bought on credit, and of
other swindles practised upon those who were impressed by the lady's
name and lineage and the patronage of the great Cardinal which she
enjoyed.

To live on your wits is no easy matter. It demands infinite address,
coolness, daring, and resource qualities which Madame de la Motte
possessed in the highest degree, so that, harassed and pressed by
creditors, she yet contrived to evade their attacks and to present
a calm and, therefore, confidence-inspiring front to the world.

The truth of Madame de la Motte de Valois's reputation for influence
at Court was never doubted. There was nothing in the character of
Marie Antoinette to occasion such doubts. Indiscreet in many things,
Her Majesty was most notoriously so in her attachments, as witness
her intimacy with Madame de Polignac and the Princesse de Lambelle.
And the public voice had magnified - as it will - those indiscretions
until it had torn her character into shreds.

The fame of the Countess Jeanne de Valois - as Madame de la Motte
now styled herself - increasing, she was employed as an intermediary
by place-seekers and people with suits to prefer, who gratefully
purchased her promises to interest herself on their behalf at Court.

And then into her web of intrigue blundered the Cardinal de Rohan,
who, as he confessed, "was completely blinded by his immense desire
to regain the good graces of the Queen." She aroused fresh hope in
his despairing heart by protesting that, as some return for all the
favours she had received from him, she would not rest until she had
disposed the Queen more favourably towards him.

Later came assurances that the Queen's hostility was melting under
her persuasions, and at last she announced that she was authorized
by Her Majesty to invite him to submit the justification which so
long and so vainly he had sought permission to present.

Rohan, in a vertigo of satisfaction, indited his justification,
forwarded it to the Queen by the hand of the Countess, and some days
later received a note in the Queen's hand upon blue-edged paper
adorned by the lilies of France.

"I rejoice," wrote Marie Antoinette, "to find at last that you were
not in fault. I cannot yet grant you the audience you desire, but
as soon as the circumstances allow of it I shall let you know. Be
discreet."

Upon the advice of the Countess of Valois, His Eminence sent a reply
expressive of his deep gratitude and joy.

Thus began a correspondence between Queen and Cardinal which
continued regularly for a space of three months, growing gradually
more confidential and intimate. As time passed his solicitations
of an audience became more pressing, until at last the Queen wrote
announcing that, actuated by esteem and affection for him who had
so long been kept in banishment, she herself desired the meeting.
But it must be secret. An open audience would still be premature;
he had numerous enemies at Court, who, thus forewarned, might so
exert themselves against him as yet to ruin all.

To receive such a letter from a beautiful woman, and that woman a
queen whose glories her inaccessibility had magnified a thousandfold
in his imagination, must have all but turned the Cardinal's head.
The secrecy of the correspondence, culminating in a clandestine
meeting, seemed to establish between them an intimacy impossible
under other circumstances.

Into the warp of his ambition was now woven another, tenderly
romantic, though infinitely respectful, feeling.

You realize, I hope, the frame of mind in which the Cardinal-Prince
took his way through that luminous, fragrant summer night towards
the Grove of Venus. He went to lay the cornerstone of the proud
edifice of his ambitions. To him it was a night of nights - a night
of gems, he pronounced it, looking up into the jewelled vault of
heaven. And in that phrase he was singularly prophetic.

By an avenue of boxwood and yoke-elm he entered into an open glade,
in the middle of which there was a circle where the intended statue
of Venus was never placed. But if the cold marble effigy of a
goddess were absent, the warm, living figure of a queen stood, all
in shimmering white amid the gloom, awaiting him.

Rohan checked a moment, his breath arrested, his pulses quickened.
Then he sped forward, and, flinging off his wide-brimmed hat, he
prostrated himself to kiss the hem of her white cambric gown.
Something - a rose that she let fall - brushed lightly past his
cheek. Reverently he recovered it, accounting it a tangible symbol
of her favour, and he looked up into the proud, lovely face - which,
although but dimly discernible, was yet unmistakable to him
protesting his gratitude and devotion. He perceived that she was
trembling, and caught the quiver in the voice that answered him.

"You may hope that the past will be forgiven."

And then, before he could drink more deeply of this cup of delight,
came rapid steps to interrupt them. A slender man, in whom the
Cardinal seemed to recognize the Queen's valet Desclaux, thrust
through the curtains of foliage into the grove.

"Quick, madame!" he exclaimed in agitation. "Madame la Comtesse
and Mademoiselle d'Artois are approaching!"

The Queen was whirled away, and the Cardinal discreetly effaced
himself, his happiness tempered by chagrin at the interruption.

When, on the morrow, the Countess of Valois brought him a
blue-bordered note with Her Majesty's wishes that he should patiently
await a propitious season for his public restoration to royal favour,
he resigned himself with the most complete and satisfied submission.
Had he not the memory of her voice and the rose she had given him?
Soon afterwards came a blue-bordered note in which Marie Antoinette
advised him to withdraw to his Bishopric of Strasbourg until she
should judge that the desired season of :his reinstatement had
arrived.

Obediently Rohan withdrew.

It was in the following December that the Countess of Valois's good
offices at Court were solicited by a new client, and that she first
beheld the famous diamond necklace.

It had been made by the Court jewellers of the Rue Vendome - Bohmer
and Bassenge - and intended for the Countess du Barry. On the
assembling of its component gems Bohmer had laboured for five years
and travelled all over Europe, with the result that he had achieved
not so much a necklace as a blaziing scarf of diamonds of a splendour
outrivalling any jewel that the world had ever seen.

Unfortunately, Bohmer was too long over the task. Louis XV died
inopportunely, and the firm found itself with a necklace worth two
million livres on its hands.

Hopes were founded upon Marie Antoinette's reputed extravagance. But
the price appalled her, while Louis XVI met the importunities of the
jeweller with the reply that the country needed a ship of war more
urgently than a necklace.

Thereafter Bohmer offered it in various Courts of Europe, but always
without success. Things were becoming awkward. The firm had borrowed
heavily to pay for the stones, and anxiety seems to have driven Bohmer
to the verge of desperation. Again he offered the necklace to the
King, announcing himself ready to make terms, and to accept payment
in instalments; but again it was refused.

Bohmer now became that pest to society, the man with a grievance
that he must be venting everywhere. On one occasion he so far
forgot himself as to intrude upon the Queen as she was walking in
the gardens of the Trianon. Flinging himself upon his knees before
her, he protested with sobs that he was in despair, and that unless
she purchased the necklace he would go and drown himself. His tears
left her unmoved to anything but scorn.

"Get up, Bohmer!" she bade him. "I don't like such scenes. I have
refused the necklace, and I don't want to hear of it again. Instead
of drowning yourself, break it up and sell the diamonds separately."

He did neither one nor the other, but continued to air his grievance;
and among those who heard him was one Laporte, an impecunious visitor
at the house of the Countess of Valois.

Bohmer had said that he would pay a thousand louis to any one who
found him a purchaser for the necklace. That was enough to stir the
needy Laporte. He mentioned the matter to the Countess, and enlisted
her interest. Then he told Bohmer of her great influence with the
Queen, and brought the jeweller to visit her with the necklace.

Dazzled by the fire of those gems, the Countess nevertheless
protested - but in an arch manner calculated to convince Bohmer of
the contrary - that she had no power to influence Her Majesty. Yet
yielding with apparent reluctance to his importunities, she,
nevertheless, ended by promising to see what could be done.

On January 3d the Cardinal came back from Strasbourg. Correspondence
with the Queen, through Madame de Valois, had continued during his
absence, and now, within a few days of his return, an opportunity
was to be afforded him of proving his readiness to serve Her Majesty,
and of placing her under a profound obligation to him.

The Countess brought him a letter from Marie Antoinette, in which
the Queen expressed her desire to acquire the necklace, but added
that, being without the requisite funds at the moment, it would be
necessary to settle the terms and arrange the instalments, which
should be paid at intervals of three months. For this she required
an intermediary who in himself would be a sufficient guarantee to
the Bohmers, and she ended by inviting His Eminence to act on her
behalf.

That invitation the Cardinal, who had been waiting ever since the
meeting in the Grove of Venus for an opportunity of proving himself,
accepted with alacrity.

And so, on January 24th, the Countess drives up to the Grand Balcon,
the jewellers' shop in the Rue Vendome. Her dark eyes sparkle, the
lovely, piquant face is wreathed in smiles.

"Messieurs," she greets the anxious partners, "I think I can promise
you that the necklace will very shortly be sold."

The jewellers gasp in the immensity of the hope her words arouse.

"The purchase," she goes on to inform them, "will be effected by a
very great nobleman."

Bassenge bursts into voluble gratitude. She cuts it short.

"That nobleman is the Cardinal-Prince Louis de Rohan. It is with
him that you will arrange the affair, and I advise you," she adds
in a confidential tone, "to take every precaution, especially in
the matter of the terms of payment that may be proposed to you.
That is all, I think, messieurs. You will, of course, bear in mind
that it is no concern of mine, and that I do not so much as want my
name mentioned in connection with it."

"Perfectly, madame," splutters Bohmer, who is perspiring, although
the air is cold - "perfectly! We understand, and we are profoundly
grateful. If - " His hands fumble nervously at a case. "If you
would deign, madame, to accept this trifle as an earnest of our
indebtedness, we - "

There is a tinge of haughtiness in her manner as she interrupts him.

"You do not appear to understand, Bohmer, that the matter does not
at all concern me. I have done nothing," she insists; then, melting
into smiles, "My only desire," she adds, "was to be of service to
you."

And upon that she departs, leaving them profoundly impressed by her
graciousness and still more by her refusal to accept a valuable jewel.

On the morrow the great nobleman she had heralded, the Cardinal
himself, alighted at the Grand Balcon, coming, on the Queen's behalf,
to see the necklace and settle the terms. By the end of the week
the bargain was concluded. The price was fixed at 1,600,000 livres,
which the Queen was to pay in four instalments extending over two
years, the first falling due on the following August 1st.

These terms the Cardinal embodied in a note which he forwarded to
Madame de la Motte, that they might be ratified by the Queen.

The Countess returned the note to him next day.

"Her Majesty is pleased and grateful," she announced, "and she
approves of all that you have done. But she does not wish to sign
anything."

On that point, however, the Cardinal was insistent. The magnitude
of the transaction demanded it, and he positively refused to move
further without Her Majesty's signature.

The Countess departed to return again on the last day of the month
with the document completed as the Cardinal required, bearing now
the signature "Marie Antoinette de France," and the terms marked
"approved" in the Queen's hand.

"The Queen," Madame de la Motte informed him, "is making this
purchase secretly, without the King's knowledge, and she particularly
begs that this note shall not leave Your Eminence's hands. Do not,

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